WASHINGTON — Facing continued backlash for calling a judge biased because of his Mexican heritage, Donald Trump sounded a softer note on Friday, telling a major gathering of social conservatives that "no one should be judged by their race or their color."
"Freedom of any kind means no one should be judged by their race or their color and the tone of his hue -- should not be judged that way," he said at the Faith and Freedom Coalition "Road to Majority" Conference in Washington, D.C.
Trump noted that the nation is "very divided," and promised: "We're going to bring our nation together."
The speech was a call for unity from a divisive candidate to a crowd still, in many cases, wary of the presumptive GOP nominee.
A small group of anti-war protesters affiliated with the group Code Pink interrupted his speech and were ejected from the room as the crowd chanted "USA!"
Even those there to support the social conservative cause have long been skeptical of Trump for his shifts on key issues like abortion — he supported abortion rights in the 1990s, but shifted sometime in the next decade. But Trump has been meeting with social conservative leaders and his Friday speech seemed to indicate he's taken their concerns to heart. During his remarks, Trump emphasized "the importance of faith to the United States," the "sanctity and dignity of life" and his conservative Supreme Court justice picks.
But Trump has broadly struggled to unite the Republican Party behind his candidacy and only hurt his case by attacking Judge Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born judge overseeing a case against Trump University, as biased because he's Mexican-American.
Democrats have seized on those attacks as evidence Trump would undermine the rule of law as president, and even some Republican leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan — have decried his attacks as racist.
But facing a firestorm of criticism from both sides of the aisle, Trump has made small steps this week to signal he's taking advice to reign in his rhetoric seriously. He also used a teleprompter during his Tuesday-night victory speech, promising to make the GOP "proud." And Trump huddled with a handful of major GOP financiers on Thursday to brief them on his plans for the general election, a meeting many attendees described as positive and productive.
He's also hoping to regain some lost ground with a speech attacking Hillary Clinton on Monday, and it was clear during his remarks at the Faith and Freedom Coalition conference that the planning for that address is underway.
On Friday, Trump unleashed a variety of attacks on the presumptive Democratic nominee, promising to instate new ethics rules at the State Department; called on Clinton to reverse her support for Syrian refugees; said she "totally jeopardized national security by putting her emails on a private server" and attacked her for donations to the Clinton Foundation.
"Bill and Hillary made $153 million giving speeches to special interest groups since 2001. That's a lot of money. That's a lot of money. These donors own Hillary Clinton. They own her," he said.